E-Pay ad 'in poor taste' but didn't breach code of practice: advertising authority

(SCREENSHOTS: Twitter, Preetipls/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s advertising authority said on Thursday (1 August) that an allegedly racist e-payment advertisement was “in poor taste” but did not breach its code of practice.

Responding to media queries, the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) said that it had assessed the E-Pay advertisement based on the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP)’s general principle on social values.

The current edition of the 65-page SCAP, dated 2008, dictates that advertisements should be handled sensitively to minimise misinterpretation of intentions on ethnic issues. They should also not jeopardise inter-ethnic understanding or discriminate against any ethnic group or religion, or downplay the importance of mutual dependence amongst all groups.

The ASAS, an advisory council to the Consumers Association of Singapore, felt the advertisement was not done “with harm in mind or to deliberately put down any ethnic groups”, said its chairman Professor Ang Peng Hwa, adding that they received two feedback about the matter.

This comes as the police confirmed that one police report has been filed against the advertisement. Nanyang Technological University student Nabil Khairul Anwar, who made the report on Wednesday, had posted a copy of it on Facebook.

Prof Ang said that the council noted the explanation by Havas, the creative agency behind the advertisement, and that it did not breach the SCAP.

“We also note that the advertisement has been removed and that Havas has issued a public apology; as the advertisement has ceased, no further action is currently required.”

The SCAP is being reviewed to bring it in line with international best marketing practices and the codes of practice of other jurisdictions, Prof Ang added.

The original ad, which has since been taken down. (Screenshot from Twitter)
The revised ad. (SCREENSHOT: E-Pay website)

The advertisement featured Chinese Mediacorp artiste Dennis Chew dressed up as four different characters, including an Indian man with artificially darkened skin and a Malay woman wearing a headscarf.

In response to the advertisement’s use of “brownface” and racial stereotypes, social media personality Preeti Nair, otherwise known as Preetipls, and her brother Subhas released a rap video peppered with expletives and vulgar gestures directed at Chinese Singaporeans.

It is currently under investigation by the police following a report made over its “offensive content”.

Made report due to ad’s ‘seditious tendency’

When contacted by Yahoo News Singapore, Nabil, a 25-year-old public policy and global affairs undergraduate, said, “I have reasonable suspicion to believe that the publication of the advertisement has a seditious tendency. I trust that the police will carry out the investigations in good faith.”

In its media statement on Wednesday night, NETS apologised for any “hurt” that its campaign has caused, and stressed that its intent was to “communicate that e-payment is for everyone”.

“The campaign was in connection with the unified e-payment initiative, a multi-agency effort led by Enterprise Singapore, where NETS was appointed as the master acquirer to handle payment transactions and drive adoption of e-payment in small food businesses,” the electronic payments provider added.

This comes days after Havas, which worked with The Celebrity Agency, Mediacorp's celebrity management unit, for the advertisement, issued a joint statement to apologise for “any hurt that was unintentionally caused”.

Enterprise Singapore, the National Environment Agency, the Housing and Development Board, and JTC Corporation appointed NETS last year to roll out the E-Pay system to hawker centres, food courts and canteens.

Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to Enterprise Singapore, the lead agency for the system, for comment.

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